Tag Archives: time

The now and then of books

file0002103651804Master Eight is fascinated with hearing about “the olden days” at the moment. Sadly, the days he means when he uses that phrase are the days of my own childhood. I keep trying to tell him that, no, it’s my parents who grew up in the olden days, but to no avail. As far as he’s concerned, my childhood is closer to the age of the dinosaurs than to the present reality of his every day life.

A few months ago, I told him the story of the day I was born.

“My mum, Nana, started feeling funny,” I said, “and had pains in her back. My dad was worried about her, and decided to call the doctor to check if he should be doing anything. But they didn’t have a phone at their house, so he had to run down the street — in his pyjamas (this elicited the laugh I expected) — to the pay phone and call the doctor. The doctor said: ‘Son, your wife’s having a baby. Take her to the hospital!’ And a little while later, I was born.”

Master Eight listened in rapt attention, giggled in the right places, and nodded along. When I finished telling the story, he looked confused for a minute and asked, “Why didn’t they have a phone in their house?”

I explained that, back in those days, not everyone had a phone in their house, so they had to use pay phones. He still looked confused, and then his face filled with understanding. “Oh!” he said. “And his mobile was out of battery!”

I think that moment, more than any other, made me realise exactly how removed his childhood is from mine — he lives in a world where not having a landline is fine, but not having a mobile phone is inconceivable. A world where not being able to look up information immediately from the comfort of your phone or laptop is an alien concept. A world where communication takes place instantly or never — there is no in between.

Since then, I’ve noticed it more and more in the books we read together. Sometimes when I’m reading him Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or Norton Juster, he looks at me and asks why people didn’t just use their phones. Or why they didn’t just google in the information.

I’ve spoken to people who feel this disconnect makes those older stories incomprehensible to children of today, or who avoid reading stories that will confuse young readers. Me? I take a different view.

Every gap in understanding that results in a question about technology is a window into a conversation about the way the world has changed, and a brainstorming session on how the world of the future will look. And, let me tell you this. If it turns out half as wonderous as my son imagines, it’s going to be a bright and shiny future.

I hope I’m here to see it.

(This post was inspired by Owen Duffy’s The books I loved as a child have lasted — but the world has changed.)

10 Comments

Filed under Life With Kids, Reading

Scheduling Time for Creativity

ClockI’m a big believer in the idea that professional writers — or professional artists of any style — don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike in order to be creative. Certainly, there’s a need for inspiration when you’re creating something from nothing, but inspiration comes from doing not from waiting. As Stephen King says in his book On Writing:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

But I admit, I’ve had a lot of trouble with that recently. And when I say “recently”, I mean “over the last 18 months”.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. Poor prioritising, perhaps. Or poor time management. Or, more likely, a lack of energy and focus. But in all fairness, it’s not easy to find energy and fairness when you’re the primary carer for an incredibly demanding child like 22 month old Little Brother.

For the last 18 months, he’s been waking me up anywhere between 3:45am and 4:30am. Every day. And every moment I’m not actively supervising him, he’s breaking something or emptying the contents of my cupboards all through the house.

By the time the boys are both in bed asleep (generally between 6:00pm and 7:00pm), I’m exhausted.

And so writing has happened when and if I could fit it in.

But this week, something amazing has happened.

When we were away on holidays last week, I didn’t have a cot in the hotel room. Little Brother is 91cm tall (3 foot) tall. He’s really too big for a fold-up cot. So I put a bedrail on a single bed, pushed it against the wall, and hoped for the best. And he was fine.

Next week, we’re visiting my parents for Christmas and have the same problem re: portable cots, so he’ll be sleeping in a single bed again.

It seemed silly to spend a week with him in a bed, then put him in a cot for a week and a half, and then back to a bed. So we decided to take the plunge and convert Little Brother’s cot into a junior bed.

Big Boy Bed!

Oh. My. Goodness.

All of a sudden, he’s not waking me up at 4:00 in the morning anymore. Yesterday, he slept until 6:45am. Today was 6:30am.

Do you have any idea how amazing it is to get to sleep in until 6:30 in the morning? Let me tell you: after months of 4:00am wake-ups, 6:30 is pure bliss.

Suddenly, I’m not so tired in the evenings.

Suddenly, I’ve got a chance to reclaim some time for myself.

My husband has his own projects that he’s working on, so we’ve decided to set aside time every evening for both of us to work on our own things, and then come back together to clean up, talk, and spend time together. To that end, I’m writing every night between 7:30 and 8:30. One hour a day. It doesn’t seem like much, when you think about it. But that’s seven hours every week. Thirty hours every month.

And since I can write 500 – 1000 words in an hour, that means I can theoretically finish my first draft within the next two months.

It feels good to have time scheduled for creativity. Thank you, Little Brother. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

How do you schedule time for writing into the rest of your life?

 

30 Comments

Filed under Writing

Flash Fiction: Bright Dreams & Clock’s Revenge

The flash fiction challenge over on terribleminds this week was a little bit different. Chuck Wendig gave us five titles to choose from, and then gave us the added option of mixing up those titles and using the words in any order to create our own title.

I vacillated about which option to go with for quite a while. Then I picked one (Dead-Clock’s Revenge). Then I changed my mind and picked another (Bright Stars Gone to Black). Then I wrote my story. That’s when I realised the story I’d come up with didn’t fit either of those titles.

I had no choice but to make a new title out of the offered words.

I give you:

Bright Dreams & Clock’s Revenge

Have you ever listened to a ticking clock? I mean, really listened. Try it. Close your eyes and listen to the dead spots. The spaces between the tick, tick, ticks.

###

“Marvin! Marvin, wait up!”

I ignore her and keep walking. What is it with little sisters? Every time I turn around, there she is. Marvin, Marvin, Marvin! I’d be happy if I never heard her shout my name again.

“Marvin!”

She catches up and grabs my backpack. “Marvin!”

I spin around. “What?”

“Can I walk with you?”

Rose is six years old, which is five years younger than me. I want to tell her no. I really do. But there she is, in her pink dress and pigtails with a hopeful look on her face.

“Please?” she asks, drawing out the word.

I sigh. “Fine. Just… don’t talk to me.”

Her expression brightens. “Okay!” Then her eyes widen and her hand flies to her mouth. “Oh. I’m sorry, I talked. I did it again. Oh, no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Marvin. I just… I just can’t—“

“Just stop,” I say, but I can’t hold back my laughter. She laughs too. Then she takes my hand. I’m too old for hand-holding. But I don’t let go.

“How come you left early?” she asks.

“No reason.”

“But you never go to school early.”

I pull my hand away. “I said, no reason. Okay?”

She clasps her hands together and looks at the pavement . “Okay.”

And now I feel bad. “I’m just meeting some of the guys. We’ve got a… thing. You know?”

“A thing?” She looks up at me. “What kind of thing?”

“Just a… thing thing.”

She keeps looking at me. I look away. The sky’s blue. No clouds. It’ll be a nice day. I glance back. Rose is still looking at me.

“What?”

“What kind of thing?” she says again.

Having a little sister is hard work.  “If I tell you, will you shut up?”

“Okay.”

“Mack – you know Mack? – Mack found this weird clock in the woods when he was hiking, and it’s got weird marks on it, and Jason says they’re Egyptian writing and he thinks it might be magic.”

She looks at me. “You’ve got a magic clock.”

“Yeah. No.” I sigh. It sounds stupid when she says it.

“That’s dumb,” she says. “And anyway, you’re not allowed to do magic. Mum says.”

“What?” I stop walking and face her. “What are you talking about?”

“Last summer when you tried to cut Fletcher in half, Mum said you weren’t allowed to do magic anymore.”

“That wasn’t real magic,” I say. “That was just magic tricks. And besides, I didn’t try to cut Fletcher in half. He was supposed to squash up in the box. It’s not my fault he got hurt.”

“Yes, but—“

“But nothing.”

She shuts up. That surprises me. When we get to school, she says, “Marvin?”

“Yes?”

“What are you going to do with the clock?”

I shrug. “I dunno.”

“But what if—“

“Go to class.” I use my best grown-up voice and she does what she’s told. I watch until she disappears inside, and then I race to the clubhouse and let myself in. The shed used to belong to the groundskeeper, but now it’s ours.

“Thought you’d chickened out,” Jason says.

“No,” I say. “Just had to take Rose to class.”

Jason makes a rude noise and Mack laughs. They don’t have little sisters. “We doing this or what?” I say.

Mack grins and pulls the clock out of his bag. “Let’s do this.”

We sit in a circle and Mack puts the clock in the middle. We think it’s a clock. It sounds like one, with the steady tick, tick, tick of time passing. But there are no hands and no numbers. Just weird symbols in a spiral starting – or ending – in the centre of what would normally be the clock face.

“What now?” I ask.

Jason says, “I stole one of my Dad’s books and looked up the symbols.” His father teaches history at the high school, and knows all sorts of cool stuff about Egypt. “I wrote down how to say them. I guess we just say them out loud.”

He hands us both a sheet of paper torn from an exercise book. There are thirteen words, but they’re not words I’ve ever seen. “What do they mean?” I ask.

“Dunno,” says Jason.

“Who cares?” says Mack.

Mack starts reciting the words, and Jason and I join in. Thirteen words. Thirteen words, and the ticking stops.

Silence.

The room goes dark.

“Who summons me from my slumber?” The voice is dark and deep and heavily accented.

Someone screams. It might be me.

Light blooms. There is no groundskeeper’s shed. There is just the sky, with bright stars and a crescent moon. And man who spoke. He’s a tall man with the head of a long-billed bird.

“Who summons Thoth?”

Mack starts to cry. Jason babbles. I say nothing.

The bird-headed man looks to the weird clock and then to us. “You have cast the heka of the Clock of the Dead. Why have you stopped the passing of time?”

We didn’t mean it! We didn’t think anything would happen! I try to shout, but the words stick in my throat.

“Time must go on,” the man says. He reaches with the rod in his hand and touches the clock.

It stutters then starts to tick.

Darkness.

Light.

“Marvin! Marvin, wait up!”

I ignore her and keep walking. What is it with little sisters? Every time I turn around, there she is. Marvin, Marvin, Marvin! I’d be happy if I never heard her shout my name again.

###

Have you ever listened to a ticking clock? I mean, really listened. Try it. Close your eyes and listen to the dead spots between the tick, tick tick. To the place where the past and future lay trapped, waiting for the present to set them free.

9 Comments

Filed under Flash Fiction

Can’t Help Falling in Love (Again)

Falling in love is beautiful; beautiful and overwhelming and magical. The songs make sense. The sky is bluer, the grass greener, the sun sunnier. The world fades away. Nothing matters but you and your love. You stop spending every waking moment with your friends, and start spending every waking moment thinking about your lover. You meet for lunch, even though it’s a 15 minute drive each way and you only have a 45 minute break, because you can’t bear to go nine whole hours without seeing each other.

You open yourself and are engulfed by emotion. You know the feeling will never end. Your love is perfect and nothing can change that. You watch other couples and giggle to yourselves. We’ll never be like that, you think. We’ll never spend so much time arguing over who ate the most popcorn that we miss the end of the movie. We’ll never have to schedule a “date night”, or find it hard to remember when we last had sex, or argue about who left the dirty cup on the bench instead of stacking on the sink where it belongs.

And then things change. Perhaps you get married, or have children, or start saving for a house, or the pressures of work start to get to you. Or perhaps you just settle into a routine. Perhaps nothing changes at all, but suddenly everything is different. You stop talking about who has the sexiest body and start talking about whose turn it is to take out the trash. You stop laughing at each other’s jokes and start laughing at each other’s families. You stop wanting to spend all your time together and start wishing you had your own space.

You love each other, but it’s not the same. You’re inlove, but not of love. You talk about the future. You argue about how you spend your money. You’re overwhelmed by life and responsibility and work and finances and the need to consult with someone else over every single thing you do. You argue. You make up. You wish things were still magical and beautiful, and wonder what happened to the sweet, sensitive, sexy person you fell in love with. And then you eat another chocolate bar, turn on the TV, and try not to think about it.

You turn into that couple. A dirty sock abandoned on the bedroom floor sparks an argument of epic proportions. You compare incomes and free time and sacrifices and then one of you sleeps in the spare room. You wonder if you’re still in love at all. You feel trapped and lonely and isolated and old: old like the mountains; old like the rain. You look at young couples in love and feel overwhelmed by the weight of reality; the trials of time. You wish you could go back: back to that perfect place. But you’re too tired to try.

And then something happens.

It could be something wonderful or terrible; magical or mundane. Perhaps it’s sudden, or perhaps it creeps up on you like the first breath of spring after a long and freezing winter.

You wake up and find that you recognise the man in your bed. He’s not just the guy who can’t figure out how to put his dirty clothes in the hamper. He’s not the guy who drives you to the point of insanity with his inability to remember simple instructions. He’s not even the father of your children (at least, notonlythat). He’s the man you fell in love with.

He’s the man who can make you laugh more than anyone else in the world. He’s the man who can look into your eyes and see your very soul. He’s the man who knows the difference between when you’re really happy and when you’re pretending to be happy. He’s the man who loves you and thinks you’re beautiful, even when you’re wearing decade-old grey pyjamas and your hair looks like something out of a horror film. He’s the man who wants to hear your opinion on anything and everything.

And as you look into his eyes and remember the reasons you fell in love with him, you see the same startled recognition on his face.

The birds sing. The sun shines. The songs all make sense again.

You want to spend every moment together. You juggle your schedules; your work; your children; your responsibilities. You find time. You resent anything that gets in the way. You wake up early and stay up late, trying to wring as much extra time out of the day as possible. You talk, you dream, you live, you love. Everything is perfect.

But this time, this time, you’re smarter. You know how fleeting these feelings can be. So you cherish the moments. You bask in the glory of a world that doesn’t exist for anyone but you. You make changes. You make sacrifices. You make apologies.

Please accept mine.

I’ll be back either when this overwhelming bonfire fades to warm and cozy embers, or when I find a way to bring balance to the Force (or my life).

12 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

Yes, you DO have time!

Ever feel guilty that you don’t have time to write/exercise/paint/fulfill your lifelong ambition of visiting every shoe store in the state?

Ever wish you had just one more hour every day?

Fear not! Your worries are over! For the low, introductory price of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling), I can show you everything you need to know about finding time to achieve your heart’s desire!

Yes, you DO have time!

I’m just kidding about the money. (Unless you want to send me some. I am a poor, struggling artist after all.) But I do have the answer to my your our problems.

You’ve probably heard it said before that we all have the same amount of time — 24 hours in every day. So why does it seem like some people can work 12 hour days, write a novel every month, look after seven children, start a small business, and still have time to go shopping, where I you other people barely have time to write a couple of blog posts every week?

Is there some kind of time-turner on the market that I haven’t discovered?

Do these time-savvy people have a DeLorean in their garage?

No. Well, maybe. I don’t actually know. But what I do know is that I have a non-time travel-intensive way for me you us to find the time to write/exercise/paint/shop to our heart’s content. And I’m willing to share it with you for the low price of $19.95 free.

Let’s call it the PAE system.

Hold on, I think that deserves larger type.

The PAE System

Step 1: prioritize

I know, I know, prioritising doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Isn’t that what you do when you’ve written a list of Very Important (Boring) Tasks?

This may (or may not) surprise you, but you spend all day prioritising. All. Day. Would you like an example? Excellent.

Shall I watch TV or cook dinner?

Internalized questions: Which is most important right now? Am I hungry? Do I have to cook dinner for other people, or just myself? Is there something I particularly want to watch on TV? Is there a way I can do both?

If you’re not hungry and you don’t have the responsibility of cooking for someone else, watching TV is a higher priority than cooking dinner.

If you are hungry and you don’t have the responsibility og cooking for someone else, making dinner is a slightly higher priority, but could be over-ruled by TV if there’s something on that you particularly want to watch.

If you need to cook dinner for a family, it becomes a priority. Unless you can find a way to do both at once.

In that scenario, there are a number of listed variables that determine whether dinner or TV will be a higher priority right now. But there is also another variable, and that variable is you. Every person will prioritize slightly differently.

Let me make one thing clear: You CHOOSE to do everything you do. You CHOOSE to prioritize the way you spend your time.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “I don’t want to go to work. I’d rather stay at home and write/exercise/paint/shop all day! I have to go to work.”

No, you don’t. You really don’t. Check your hands and shoulders. Any strings attached? Have you turned into a marionette overnight? No?

You CHOOSE to go to work.

You make that choice because if you don’t, you don’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you can’t pay your bills and put food on the table.

Like most of us, you PRIORITIZE the need for food and shelter above your need to purchase shoes.

And you do this every day, without giving it a second thought.

What else do you do with your 168 hours every week?

  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Travel
  • Spend time with your partner, kids, parents, friends, dogs, houseplants, etc
  • Watch TV
  • Play computer games
  • Facebook
  • Tweet
  • The list goes on and on and on

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

Hold on, let me say that again:

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

You have the power. You have the control. Now, you need to learn how to wield it. Now, you need to learn how to actively prioritize.

Spend a few minutes thinking about the things that are most important to you. Your job, your family, your friends, your sleep, your food, your housework, your relaxation time (don’t kid yourself and think that relaxing isn’t important — whether you meditate, watch TV, play computer games or read a book, make sure you include time to chill out), writing, exercise, painting, shopping, whatever.

I’m not going to ask you to rank them in order of importance. That’s a fool’s game. All of them are important. If they weren’t you wouldn’t have listed them.

But when you’re prioritising, you’re not trying to replace one thing with another. You’re trying to take control of your time, and work out a more effective way of using it.

Is it okay to come home from a 15 hour work day and collapse in front of the TV for 4 hours instead of writing? Yes. You’ve just prioritized relaxation over writing for one night. That’s not a bad thing.

Is it okay to come home every night and collapse in front of the TV instead of writing? Yes. Absolutely. You’ve just prioritized relaxation over writing on a permanent basis. Also not a bad thing. Just realise that your job (financial solvency) and relaxation is a higher priority than your writing career at the moment. And that’s also okay.

Step 2: Act On It

Now that you’re aware that you have the power, act on it. Own it. Embrace it.

If you want to do more writing/exercise/painting/shopping, make it a higher priority.

All I want to do is relax in front of the TV. Hang on, is that what I really want? Is that my priority? I also want to get some writing done. Which is most important to me right now?

Again, this scenario has multiple variables and options. If you’re exhausted, maybe relaxation is a higher priority. Likewise if there’s a program on that you really want to watch. Maybe you want a break, but still want to prioritize writing. I’ll watch TV for half an hour, and then go and write for an hour. Or the other way around. I’ll do half an hour of writing, and then relax for the evening.

Don’t cut out everything you enjoy. Don’t replace one hobby with another. Just be mindful of your decisions and act on your priorities.

Step 3: Enjoy!

You’ve done it. You’ve worked out your priority, made a decision, and acted on. Now enjoy it.

If you want to prioritize your family over your writing, don’t sit around feeling guilty that you haven’t made your daily word count. Relax and revel in the fact that you OWN that decision.

If you want to prioritize sleep over exercise, don’t feel bad that you missed your morning run. Sit down and enjoy your breakfast, knowing that you CHOSE to do so.

If you want to prioritize watching American Idol re-runs over painting, go for it. Enjoy it. Tweet about. And know that you took control of your life.

If you want to go out and buy shoes instead of working, do it. You may end up living under a bridge, but damn your feet will look hot. And no-one can take that power away from you.

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

It’s as easy as P.A.E.

Let me give you an example from my own life. (Because I know you like to read about me almost as much as I like to talk about me.)

I used to say that I wished I had more time for writing. But with two small boys, a shift-working husband, and a house to look after, I rarely found time to sit and concentrate for long. I’m awake with my youngest boy before 5:00am every morning, and am kept busy with kids and housework until my eldest goes to sleep at 8:00pm. That gives me around 8 hours each night to fit in time with my husband, sleep, and anything I want to do on my own (ie. write).

I spent a good deal of time feeling frustrated because I didn’t have enough time to write. Then I started to think about the choices I was making, and the real priorities I had.

I could put the boys in child-care one or two days a week, and use those days for writing. Or I could stick the boys in front of the TV for 5 or 6 hours a day (ah, free child-care) and use that time for writing. But I chose not to. Why? Because I made the CHOICE every day to prioritize time with my children over time spent writing or time spent doing paid work.

I could ignore the dirty bathrooms, do the dishes once a day, buy pre-packaged baby food and snacks, and save a lot of time by doing minimal housework. But I made the CHOICE every day to be as close to the ideal of the “perfect housewife” as I could manage.

These were both choices I was making. I was made the choice to prioritize my kids and my role as housewife over my writing career. And I really didn’t want to change that. I wanted it all.

So I acted on it. I asked my husband to help out. I asked if he would prioritize child-care for 20 hours a month. And he said yes. So for 2.8% of every month, I get to be a “fulltime novelist” and lock myself away to work on my book.

Would I like more than 20 hours a month to write? Absolutely. But also: Absolutely not. Because having more time put aside for writing would mean prioritising writing above something else that’s important to me. So instead of complaining, I relax and enjoy the writing time that I’ve got, as well as the time to spend doing everything else. 

And I know that I’m in control of my time, not the other way around.

31 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Writing